When most of us hear the word depression, we immediately think of extreme sadness and listlessness in a person. However, there are more effects than just mood. Many long-term effects come with untreated depression. Therefore, encouraging people to seek help is vital for everyone as it can have a devastating effect.
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What Is Untreated Depression
Untreated depression is when someone has depression and is not actively treating it. It may be an undiagnosed condition. Some people with depression will stop medications and therapy during a low mood. Sometimes it is because of the mood disorder itself, and more often than not, it’s because of the stigma associated with poor mental health. Seeking treatment, and staying in it, is the only way to win the battle for good physical and mental health.
Depression Affects More Than Mental Health
Dysregulation of moods is not the only occurrence of clinical depression. We now know that it alters our brain chemistry and makes physical changes to the composition of the brain. It affects our gastrointestinal system and disrupts healthy eating. It will lead to heart disease and other heart issues. Most importantly, untreated depression often leads to alcohol and substance abuse as a way to self-medicate.
Long-Term Effects Of Depression On The Brain
To say that the brain is altered by depression is putting it mildly. Three things happen that contribute to the symptoms of the mood disorder.
- Brain shrinkage
- Brain inflammation
- Brain dysfunction
Because of these three occurrences, mood disorders and anxiety disorders can wreak havoc on the mind and relationships of the patients.
There is evidence that parts of the hippocampus shrink with untreated depression. The hippocampus is the very center of the brain and is responsible for our immune systems, memory, moods, and motivation. The gray tissue shrinks, and with it, millions of brain cells die. It makes it even harder for the brain to regenerate healthy brain cells at the same time. The longer people with depression are untreated, the more severe the illness becomes.
For many people, an inflamed brain while shrinking sounds confusing. It is, unfortunately, true that parts will be affected by inflammation. This is concerning because of the effect it has on the ability to recall memories and hinders learning. The brain’s ability to change as it ages is also hindered and contributes to the difficulty in neurotransmitters regulating certain functions.
Shrinkage and inflammation certainly contribute to the overall dysfunction of the brain. The ability to regulate sleep becomes difficult, and people will experience more insomnia or oversleeping. Patients will struggle with eating, either overeating or undereating. Memories, learning, and the immune system all become dysregulated, which leads to other problems in the body.
Long-Term Effects On The Stomach
Serotonin affects the brain but is actually stored in the stomach. With depressive symptoms, serotonin is unable to do its job properly and causes issues in the stomach. Many patients will suffer bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea. Research has shown that serotonin contributes to the digestive system and its functions.
Long-Term Effects On The Heart
Patients with major depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders often develop heart disease when they are left untreated. This is often due to mood disorders that center around heart rate, increased blood pressure, and reduced blood flow to the heart. Some folks also have biological factors that contribute and exacerbate it all when combined with depression.
On the other hand, those with depression associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are at a higher risk because of other symptoms. For example, a constant state of fear, lack of sleep, and other symptoms can lead to risky behavior contributing to heart attacks.
Long-Term Effects On The Immune System
As we have mentioned previously, the hippocampus regulates immunity. We also know that healthy gut bacteria are a part of our immune system. One of the worst long-term effects of untreated depression is its effect on the hippocampus and the gut. There is such a close link between immunity and depression that no one is sure which one causes which.
We know that the hippocampus deals with shrinking and with inflammation in the person who has depression. This alone disrupts the release of certain hormones that tell us when to eat a healthy meal when to sleep, and regulate normal body functions.
We also know that with a weakened immune system, people are likely to develop issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Fibromyalgia, and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). When these develop, it can make the clinical depression much worse if untreated.
Alcohol And Substance Abuse
While not all patients with depression abuse alcohol and substances, the possibility is still high. Untreated depression leaves the individual feeling like something has to be done. Many feel like if they seek treatment, their family will be burdened by cost and emotional support. Alcohol and various drugs become attractive as a way to medicate themselves. Unfortunately, this turns into a serious addiction that will require treatment as well. It will also make the mood disorder more severe and can take longer to recover.
There Is Help
Treatment is easily available for any person who suspects they have depression or some other disorder. We offer a wide range of therapy, treatment, and assistance for the family to make support easier. Needing mental health treatment is normal and is not a bad thing. Your life matters and we are here to help you heal.